A Short History of Here
Sometimes I think people might actually be interested in the history of this web site. I thought this yesterday [today is Saturday 6th November 2004], and missed quite a lot out by accident and by not thinking.
So here it is.
"Here" also needs a short history of how I came to be online at all, because I would never have considered the internet without being unemployed.
Before the Net
Back in the 1990s there was a huge recession, and especially badly hit were the banking industry and then the cause of the consolidation of he banking industry - the IT industry. And I worked in the IT industry. Worse I worked for a large US Corporation called Wang Laboratories which was busy going downhill fast. 33,500 staff when I joined it, and a couple of years after I left it had about 3,000 staff, and finally vanished into Olivetti and then Getronics.
In the 1990s you were unemployable if you had the awkward combination I did of company and job role, so I scratched around for a living. While scratching around I mistakenly started working with Multi Level Marketing (serious error, that) and ended up building an alleged business with a Manchester based outfit called Powernet International who sold internet access that a salesman could make commission on. So I connected my Tandon 486SX25 PC via its 14kbps fax modem to the internet.
A world opened up before me. This was in about 1994 or so. Netscape release 3, maybe even release 2, a lousy PC so very poor rendition of colour images, and a very slow, achingly slow dial up link. I also had a high price tariff, and in the UK we pay for local phone calls, so access had to be short and sweet. But what a vista! For the first time in my life I could see gay porn! And for the first time in my life I could read gay stories.
That isn't strictly true. When I was a teenager I raided our local library for all Mary Renault's books, and there was "Lord Dismiss Us" by Michael Campbell [actually quite a turgid and tedious read - I found it on Amazon recently for £1 bought it, re-read it, was vastly disappointed, and sold it again for £10 via Amazon!], there Was Brian Aldiss's "The Hand Reared Boy", EM Forster's "Maurice", and some utter drivel called "The Au Pair Boy", but that was it. And suddenly here was Nifty; here was ASSGM in the form it was then.
The online stories were really "Gay Friction" rather than fiction. They met a physical need but left an emotional need entirely untouched. But I did find a few.
I wrote to authors when their stories spoke to me. Some wrote back. Some were friendly and approachable. I forget just when I met my Chicago friend Comicality, but he was the person responsible for my starting a website, and, in a way, for choosing "It's Only Me from Across the Sea" as a pen name and site name [it comes from the bawdy song "Barnacle Bill the Sailor]. I'm pretty sure it was in 1996 or so that we met. And if I'm right about that then the first iteration of this site started in January 1997, with the first ever chapter of the first ever story I ever wrote. Chris and Nigel were born.
The Site Starts
I hadn't a clue how to make a website, but I did have Netscape Composer. I took space at Geocities, uploaded the basic pages and was pleased to get ten visitors a day. My design sucked. I have pretty limited artistry anyway, and I have help, now to design the site. But then, well I was awful. But it worked.
And six weeks later I was off the air. Geocities was hugely homophobic, and had a "let's kill all the gay sites, even if we have specialist areas we declare to be gay-friendly" unofficial policy. And then started a traipse as a "free site gypsy" around all the free web space providers on the net. I have been kicked off Tripod (twice), Xoom (once as Xoom), NBCI (yup, it acquired Xoom, twice), Angelfire (once pre Tripod, once post tripod). Kicked myself off gay.sexhound.net, but stayed there for 9 months while looking for a home, had a very strange happening with a guy who gave me the domain "teenboyauthors.org", and gave me free hosting on "his" servers together with a large group of friends with their sites until the server owners [a large commercial gay porn site] discovered how much bandwidth we were all taking up and how popular our free stuff was versus their pay stuff.
The teenboyauthors.org thing crashed about our ears in less than 2 hours. Lots of sites were homeless. Regrettably there was a great falling out with a load of muck being thrown in all directions. The long and short of it is that I am sure the donor had exceeded his authority, panicked, and killed the experiment. Shit happens.
Good things happen too. A lot of good friendships were made. Some stayed, some lapsed.
Too many Friendships to Count
Whenever one makes a list of friends people get left out. It's always an accident, so bear with me.
On the writing side I'd met Comicality, and he'd encouraged me to write. We became firm friends and we each supported the other through some pretty crap emotional times. We used to exchange emails daily or more, but we each need the other's support less and less and we now are just "there for each other".
Ether he, or I, or others encouraged a huge number of people to start writing gay teenage romantic fiction. This is where the list becomes hazy, but it includes The Eggman, The Journeyman, Grasshopper, , Feangol, Mihangel... Well you see what I mean at least. There are too many to name.
One important friendship was with the guy I know in public as "Megaman". It's a standing joke between us that he wears his underpants outside his trousers. In truth he is a sweet gentle unassuming guy in Germany who has taken and shaken this site and made it behind the scenes the site it is today. I can't recall now whether I met him as I bought "iomfats.org" or whether I met him before that or just after it. I'm pretty sure it was around that tie, but I seem to have known him for my lifetime.
Whenever it was that I met him, he took on the technical side of the site very soon afterwards. It's really "We" now, not "I". The site can exist without him, but not grow. It could not have existed without him, though. Does that make sense?
He took the site by the scruff of its neck and shook it, and made it fit on servers we rented from an "ok" outfit "Blue Domino". And a lot happened. The mailing list was hosted externally. That was the first thing, I think, to come "in house", so we were no longer beholden to an email outfit that started to charge money to send emails. At that time we had 300 people on the mailing list. Today we have almost 900, with people joining and leaving daily, as people do.
The next thing to get the Megaman treatment was the message board. We (he!) found the right vehicle, installed it, and imported all the old entries from the voy.com system we depended on before. He created the polling engine for polls - bye bye Sparklit!. He replaced the messageboard with a better one to take advantage of MySQL, and he implemented the email system which we allow some of our authors to use. He created he search engine, the RSS feed from the messageboard, and so much more. And he had a huge idea about design.
It used to be awful!
Now he is no designer, but he is a darned sight better than I am! But he and I agreed that we probably could not redesign the look and feel of the site well because we were standing too close to it. I think it was his idea to hold a design contest. Mind you he and I think alike, so we probably thought of it together.
Several designs were submitted. M EH won and helped Megaman to implement his design. The principles were simple:
- Easy to navigate
- Easy to know where you are
- Easy to maintain
And Megaman slaved over the implementation. He converted all the pages, sometimes with an automated system, but mostly by hand. And he implemented W3C compliance for XHTML pages to future proof the site, and CSS to make sure we use only standard browser functionality. Microsoft may have the market share, and 86% of our visitors use IE, but we want a standard site, and he has enforced it. Except on the messageboard, where it is impossible since we allow embedded HTML by posters.
We had an awful time with Blue Domino. They migrated us and destroyed the site functionality. Then, after we "negotiated" with them over that they started to harbour spammers and were spam blocked. That meant we became spam blocked since we used their IP address space, and spam blocks block IP addresses. We negotiated our way out of that onto a special server of theirs with their "highly qualified sysadmin" looking after us and started to shop around for a better server.
We needed to manage our own server, not to be beholden to some sysadmin or other. So we timed it to perfection. Our Blue Domino subscription ran out (We were with them just over 2 years) at just the right time, and we moved to a virtual dedicated server setup with ISPServer. This was not wholly satisfactory, but worked fine for a while. We had the benefit of a "machine" that looks like ours in a data centre currently in Philadelphia, though it used to be in Florida, with IP address space that is pretty clean for spam blocks. They strangled our cpu power, and we got some very strange cpu loops with MySQL that have to be outside our code, since we've (Megaman has) tested for them and cannot get them to register on his traces. But it worked. Even so we had to move. Strangled cpu power and support in accent with a trace of English was suboptimal
So we migrated again to Tektonic. And our new server was pretty good, although we pushed it very hard. It was another virtual environment, and the virtualisation system was not 100% reliable, but it was ok for a couple of years. It worked.
Another move to a new server in 2008, but this one is a dedicated server, and under our control. The previous environment started to put performance limits on us. All they achieved was to lose our business.
on 17 April 2012 we moved from our home at DedicatedNow where we've been very happy. Our server of four years there was pretty much a new machine when we started to rent it, and the disks have been spinning for four non stop years. We decided it was time, since the server is, effectively, ours, to move to a new machine before it broke down. Machines like that don't exist any more.
We'd have been happy to stay with this vendor, but they've moved into a more expensive market, and they had no options for us to choose from, so Megaman looked around and nailed down a special offer of an amazing machine at the same price. And we moved without anyone noticing a loss of service. We're not sure we can stay on it because the disks run very hot and will break down far too early, but it will do for now.
Plans for the Future
Actually nothing special. The site is here to stay. Today we get over 2,500 visitors a day and the front door has had well over a million people step over the threshold. Some stay and become friends. Some just pass through. Either is fine.
So Whom am I Indebted to?
My friends, that is for sure. The authors, not just the ones here. Megaman for his huge work behind the scenes. M EH for the clean design. And the site visitors who find something here that touches their hearts enough to make them become "regulars".
On 18 January 2006, pretty much on the anniversary of the site's creation in 1997, we hit 1,500,000 visitors, at 9:23pm GMT. I am amazed!
On 5 November 2007 a little before 8pm GMT we hit 2,000,000 vistors through the front page - real visitors, not refreshes, pretty much at least
In the wee small hours of Monday 12 December 2011 I retired from active day to day site management. That's been almost 15 years. No-one will notice the difference. The site carries on with Megaman's hand on the tiller. I'll still accept or reject the stories and poems, though.[Last updated 13 May 2012]